Next on the Bi-Player, we return to Red Fergie’s Bife Stories to continue our week of “We are 1″ posts. This time to chat with far-too-regular-for-his-own-good contributor to Bifurcated, Brett Atkinson. Red Fergie isn’t a fan of Brett, so let’s get on with it before we have to call the emergency services (warning- contains some strong language)…
Och, many of us know Brett because he talks so much shite on this site, but what else do we know? I’m pretty sure I’m not that arsed, but, if I must … Let’s ask him some questions (I have to say that, cus he’s my voice).
We’ve taken the added precaution of strapping Red Fergie to his chair, so there’ll be none of that walking round in the dark stuff for the title sequence.
Och so Brett, quite an ending to the season, eh?
Yeah, it couldn’t have been more fitting, could it? It was such a messed up season. Teams outright refusing to make things easy for themselves, strange results every week. Still doesn’t make it right though.
Heh, no it doesn’t. Anyway let’s not get on a downer, it’s going to be depressing enough talking to you for a bit. So, you were born in Chesterfield and grew up in a town called … let me get this right … Clowne?
Heh, that really is priceless…
STOP IT! What’s it like the rest of the year round?
Well, I don’t live there anymore. It’s a small northern town that has had the heart of its community ripped out by having a giant Tescos dumped on its old market site. So not dislike other postcodes in the British Isles.
Och, they’re ruddy everywhere!
When I was growing up – although Clowne wasn’t strictly speaking a mining town – we were surrounded by collieries. Many of my extended family were employed by the coal industry in some shape or form. Even though I was only a child in the early eighties, as you can probably imagine, I have a strong dislike of the Tories hardwired in.
You say extended family. Not your mother and father then?
No. My mum worked in one of the pubs in town and my dad was a sewing-machine operative, although my Mum and Dad broke up at some point during my Mum’s pregnancy, so I didn’t know what my dad did until relatively recently.
An only child. I knew it!
*Knew it (in hushed tones)*
Heh, Yep. That’s me.
So you lived with your mum then by the sounds of it?
Yeah, but my Mum worked a lot of shifts. I don’t really remember her being around much for most of my early upbringing. I have about ten aunties who all had children, so all the cousins kind of grew up together, almost like brothers and sisters. I’d either be with my cousins, with a baby-sitter, or my favourite place, with my Grandad.
You spent a lot of time with him didn’t you?
Yeah. My grandad was in many respects my father. He was quite a human being really. Only a couple of my mum’s sisters were actually his offspring, but he was a dad to them all and more. One of the only children he had with Grandma was my Uncle Claude who was born without the use of his legs. Grandad was always happy. He remained selfless throughout his life. I learned a lot from him.
You remember him fondly then…
I have a little of piece of black string I tied round my wrist on the anniversary of his death years ago that I haven’t removed. Sounds silly but I think it’s important to remind yourself of the important people you’ve had in your life. He always had a fag on, maybe that’s why I love smoking.
And did you see your dad at all?
Yeah, I’d go round to my other grandparents (his parents) house every Sunday and he’d be there sometimes. We’d play football a lot or tennis. One of the few things I remember about him was that he was an amateur tennis player.
So he was a United fan?
I’m not sure to be honest. His Dad, my Grandad was. I think supporting United came from school. Most of my friends supported Everton or Liverpool, but I liked Bryan Robson, and one of my best friends supported United, so I’ve always thought it came from there. I’ve got an old photo of me in Skegness aged 5 in a United shirt, but I don’t really remember exactly how and why it exactly came about.
Skeggy hey? So you went on family holidays?
Yeah, me and Mum were always at Butlins or Newquay or Mablethorpe. Piggy-backing on other members of the family’s holidays.
Och, and how did you end up moving from Clowne to Cumbria?
Mum met my new Dad, Guy when I was about 5 or 6. He was from a posh family, relatively speaking, from Windermere and wanted to move back home.
So you went. How did you get on with your new Dad? Was it difficult?
Heh. It’s easier to talk about these things when you’re an adult yourself and you understand a bit more about why adults behave the way they do. It was challenging shall we say.
Och, it’s never easy is it. Let’s move on. You moved to the Lakes when you were 8…
Yeah. Guy my new Dad was, and still is, a chef and got a job in a hotel on Windermere. My Mum soon became Assistant Manager.
Och was it a fancy hotel?
Heh no. It is now apparently a celebrity haunt. Back in the late 80’s early 90’s it was frequented by Wallace Arnold tours for over the 50’s.
Looks nice. So, how did you find the move?
Very tough at first. One of the things that helped me through it was our family dog, Chip. We’d got him before we moved and he was my best friend. The hotel was surrounded by a few acres of woodland, so I would always be walking and exploring with him. The rest of the family now had a holiday destination where they could stay for free, so we still saw them a lot. Even though we lived in the grotty staff block, Mum and Dad made our end of it quite decent. It’s funny how at the time you don’t grasp that “this too will pass”, you’re in it. When you look back it wasn’t so bad.
What about school?
I got really lucky, in that there were two other new children who had moved to Windermere at the same time. They became my best friends straight away. I joined the school football team and soon settled in. I wasn’t very confident as a child, something that I’ve grown up with, but got by fine.
Och, So you played a lot of football?
Yes. Was always either in the school team, or local team or friend of a friends team up until about 2009 when a big lumbering oaf of a defender tackled me from behind about a month after I’d passed the ball off. I can still remember the sound of my knee crunching.
Och, they’re the ones that’ll do yer in! What was your position?
Well I was always a striker but being taller than everyone meant a lot of shifts in defence. I Played mostly in midfield.
And there you are circled. Och, so were you any good?
That’s a hard question to answer objectively. I was voted Player of the Season for every team I played for, at every age, at least once. Including a couple of times in the lowest rung of the F.A leagues.
Aye, not bad then relatively speaking. Let’s get back to the story … What about Secondary school?
I don’t in retrospect remember finding it any tougher than other teenagers. Worrying about spots and whether I was wearing my tie thin enough, silly things that are as irrelevant now as they were absolutely vitally important then. I was always getting good reports, up until around final exam time.
Och, what happened?
I’m not sure if anything happened as such. I was just changing. I now had friends who smoked and had parties and sex. I unfortunately wasn’t ever at the parties or involved in any of the sex, I lived to far away from the village to get to any of them. I ended up scraping through GCSE’s with fairly poor marks.
Then you went on to take A-levels and started to get a better idea of what you wanted to do?
No, not entirely. Passing my driving test and getting a car sorted me out. I had a lot more freedom. I could do my own thing. A lot of my school friends got work and didn’t do A-levels, so I had to forge new friendships and that’s what I did. These friends were amongst the best I’ve had. They were in bands and had parties in derelict barns. The stuff I’d heard happened, but never thought I’d be part of. They were into art and heading off to college in Lancaster to do a foundation course and I somehow managed to get on the course with them. Which was lucky because I’d done terrible in my A-levels. I found them boring.
How was Lancaster?
Brilliant. I’d been wanting to move out of my parents house since I could remember (nothing new there). Because I didn’t really have any art background to speak of at that point I was like the cliched sponge. We were always mucking about in the house we shared. One of my friends Andrew was, and still is, always making music and I got into it more myself.
Och, were you in a band?
We were more one of Andrew’s hobbies/side projects, but I loved it. I have kept it up in my own D-I-Y way. Me and a friend now meet every Tuesday and write stuff. It’s nothing serious but we have a good laugh and I really think making music and singing at every opportunity, whether you can or not, is good for the soul.
Aye! I love a bit of karaoke myself. I do a mean Scatman John. (pause) It’s a joke come on keep up! So, a year in Lancaster and then off to Uni for you was it?
Yeah, I was really obsessed with getting as far away from my parents as possible, and being by the sea, I’m not sure why the sea bit was important. I ended up in Bristol. All my friends went off to Manchester. It took me a while to get over the fact I’d not done that myself.
Och, and so to University … the next chapter! Let’s go for a short break first.
Can we run the Z-factor advert too hey? I know with hindsight it’s a bit crap and the formatting didn’t really work but it took me hours to do that…
Och we’re here with one half of Bifurcated, Brett. The one who does all the posting and I have to say he’s not that bad after all. So, Bretty, how did Uni at Bristol work out for yer?
It didn’t start out great. There had been a mix up in the U.W.E (University of the West of England) admin department and I missed out on halls. They didn’t tell me this till the week before the course started. So, the day before I was due in I was driving around Bristol trying to find somewhere to live. I ended up in a shit hole miles away from anything.
Och, so not with students?
No. Professionals. How they could really be considered that I’m not sure. One of them, I gathered from the graffiti outside the house, was a suspected paedophile. He was defintely a ready meal thief, I caught him red handed.
Aye, you have to put post-it notes on stuff I heard. How was University though did you make friends easily?
Not really. Everybody else seemed to be there because they’d not got on to a course in London. They were a pretentious bunch so far removed from what I was used to that I didn’t want to go in. They used to refer to me as the deep-thinker because I always had my head in my sketch book. I never wrote one letter in that sketchbook, it was my protective cloak. I wasn’t thinking about the complex questions proposed by the tutors, I was counting down the seconds until I could get home, to the house I shared with a Paedo, and lock myself away and them out.
So how did things turn around?
With the power of beer and pool. I managed to somehow create a situation in the campus bar where I got pissed with a nice brummy fella, called Dave, off the course and let him thrash me at pool. We had a good laugh and almost overnight became good friends. He was confident, but not arrogant and very popular. He was always good to me and made sure I didn’t hide away. I told him later that I’d let him beat me at pool so he’d be my friend and so he wanted a re-match. He was winning 12-2 from that first night playing, so I insisted we play best of 25, and I won 13-12.
Heh, good lad. Were many people into footy on the course?
Well Dave was a bit. But through him I befriended Matt, a massive England fan. I’d watch a lot with him, he was mental, but a mental I could cope with and to a point like. I started using football language and imagery in my work that seemed to help me with the course.
I put that on the front entrance of the campus gates. It originally said “Welcome To My Hell”, but it got ripped down and I didn’t have enough tape to put the lettering back as it was. It’s wasn’t anything to do with my work in particular, it was just something I did one day. None of my work looked anything like that, or was anywhere near as, well, juvenile I spose. The reaction to it and it in itself definitely switched a light on somewhere for me.
And University life progressed from this point on, did you enjoy it?
Absolutely. After the first year I moved in to a shared house with Matt and others who became really good friends. One of my main problems had always been that I felt uncomfortable in my body. The first summer of Uni I went to work in my Uncle’s cafe and spent all my time working out, running and dieting. I went back for the second year three stone lighter and I stopped dying my hair blonde, I really don’t know why I used to do that. It was a new start for me.
Och you were more confident…
Yeah. I started getting to grips with the course as well. Me and Matt founded the campus football team, I loved it. Such was the change I ended up organising exhibitions around the city and was asked by the tutors to help curate the degree show. At graduation I won an award for my contribution to the course.
Och great stuff. What happened after Uni then?
Not much to be perfectly honest. It’s difficult adapting to life after University. The University experience is so unique. A lot of friends moved back home or to London, ruddy cliches. I just wanted to stay in Bristol. I’d really grown attached to the city. A couple of friends were still around and we did a few shows and tried our hand at a few different things, film nights etc with varying degrees of success. I had a strange contract with a gallery in Oxford where I wasn’t allowed to show my work within a 50 mile radius of the city, unless it was with them. But they never showed any anyway. I got a job as a grounds maintenance operative, which was at least not an office job. That was it for a while. Work in the week, try a little project at the weekend. It was okay. I got a job for a year working in the art department at a college, but my boss was so full of it and restricted by funding. I had to give it up.
When did the breakthrough happen, that got you your own company and all that?
A friend’s girlfriend came back from travelling and needed somewhere to stay and I couldn’t make the rent on my flat so she moved in on a temporary basis. Her friend Jayne came round to visit occasionally and I really fancied her. For whatever reason, she fancied me back. I totally lucked out, I’m batting way above my weight. We were both feeling the same general disconnection with the world. We went on an amazing road trip down through Spain for inspiration, came back and said “let’s do it”. Less than a year later we jumped straight into running our own shop together.
What experience of running your own business did you have?
None. We didn’t have any money either. A theme that has stuck. Luckily neither of us have ever had any money, so we were good at dealing with that. For a post I did last year I added up my combined life wages and it came to £73,000 and I’m 33. I think it’s closer to £74,000 now.
Och, Carlos Tevez doesn’t get out a bed for twice that …
Yeah, I know to some people having no money, or very little is unimaginable. You just think about things differently. I don’t buy things, I’m not a consumer. I’ve never bought a mobile phone, I just wait for my parents to get a new one. The only things I buy new are footwear and underwear. Everything else I get is hand-me-downs from friends and family or the odd gem from a charity shop.
So what’s the business?
Heh, well we don’t see ourselves as business people. We run a Community Interest Company, it’s a Social Enterprise, not a charity, that puts profits back into the community and more specifically art. We are called SHOP (Vintage Lounge and Arts Venue). We sell Vintage and Retro clothes. Real Vintage and Retro, not just second-hand clothes. Nothing we sell is under thirty years old.
And so all the surplus money goes into providing arts facilities for Bristol?
Yep. We have a small Arts Space attached to the shop and we stage all kinds of other events, like film nights, gigs etc. We also do a lot within the area we are based in. We basically deal with all the admin, send out newsletters and maintain the website for our little corner of Bristol. We organise a local Artisans market and other large events. This is how I met David, the other Bifurcater, his company was based in the area until recently and he helped out a lot.
Och, so you’re a community man. I didn’t have you pegged as that, let me tell you. So what’s next?
Well I suppose we just keep developing. We’ve been open for almost six years and just signed a lease to keep us there at least a bit longer. You never know what’s going to happen. We do want to live in Spain at some point, Jayne is fluent. We’ll just enjoy what we’re doing and see.
Och. And what about the two of you, any plans for marriage?
Heh. I think our respective parents would love that and we’d probably get a free holiday out of it, but until all religious aspects are removed from the legal contract then we wouldn’t even consider it.
Not religious then?
I’m an atheist yes. I don’t believe in a god, but that doesn’t mean I’m anti-church. The general messages of all religions are good ones, it’s a shame I think that all institutions, not just religious ones, at some level have become corrupted.
Okay, so what about children?
Again, would be a popular decision with our parents, but it’s not something we talk about. It’s not something I would take lightly. I think if you’re having a child, you have to really, really want a child with your every sinew and you have to be able to provide the child with everything it could possibly need in every eventuality. I can’t ever see being in either of those situations, let alone both. We have a cat, which we love with all our hearts and that’s more than enough of a responsibility for me. And cats are cuter … This is Casey.
Aye you might have a point there. So before we wrap it up … do you still manage to continue your own art practice?
Heh. Good question. You’re it. You’re my practice. I’ve always tried to explore the language of art, the way art communicates with different people. How it looks, how it feels. How it’s interpreted. I’ve brought a lot of those questions, the quasi-naive, self referential elements to Bifurcated. I still do little things here and there, when I want. A lot of the questions I was perhaps asking ten years ago with my work, I can now find the answers to in philosophy, with the likes of A.C Grayling and Alain de Botton. I’m generally more creative, such is the environment we’ve created with our company.
Och, okay, well thank you for giving us a bit of an insight. We’ve run over a bit, but I really enjoyed talking to you. Thank you. Now get back to Bifurcated Towers and get us some actual proper posts done please…
Thanks, It’s been a pleasure. But of course you knew that already, because I am you. It’s all a bit Luke and Darth. Red Fergie … I am your father.
Are you quite finished?